Tibet's Invasion: the Last Warning
An interesting exchange between the Indian Prime Minister (Jawaharlal Nehru), the Political Officer in Sikkim (Harishwar Dayal) and the Head of the Indian Mission in Tibet (Sumul Sinha) took place at the time Communist China started to mass troops at the border of Tibet in August 1950.
The full-fledged invasion will take place 2 months later on October 7, when the PLA crossed the Upper Yangtze.
In August, Dayal asks/tells his Government:
- To urgently decide a line to be taken “on Tibetan question and how and when India will act.”
- That India has promised to provide diplomatic support when the Tibetan question is raised
- Friendly representations have so far been ineffective
- India is not doing charitably in assisting Tibet
- The domination of Tibet would cause nervousness and unrest among border peoples in NEFA and from Ladakh to Assam
- The policing of the northern frontier has so far required negligible military effort. It would assume immediate practical importance.
- India should not condone the Chinese aggression on Tibet
- There is no Anglo-American activity in Tibet as the Chinese propaganda pretends.
- Dayal gives the example of Eastern Europe which makes it clear that the autonomy offered by the Communists is meaningless.
- He suggests that friendly, but positive representation might avert aggression while maintenance of an attitude of indifference would certainly encourage it.
- The latter option would eventually be chosen by Delhi.
Here is the exchange:
From the Political Officer in Sikkim, Gangtok.
To Foreign (Ministry of External Affairs), New Delhi.
Repeated to the (Indian) Mission (in) Lhasa.
TOP SECRET telegram dated August 17, 1950
Lhasa telegram [from Sumul Sinha] of 14th August and 16th August  make it urgent for Government of India to decide definitely what line they are going to take on Tibetan question and how and when they will act. Message conveyed in your [previous] telegram assured Tibet of diplomatic support when Tibetan question was raised. It is evident that satisfactory solution must largely depend on existence of friendship between India and China. But it is equally evident that friendly representations made after invasion has begun must be ineffective (repeat ineffective).
Question is not (repeat not) simply one of charitably assisting Tibet. Communist domination of Tibet would cause nervousness and unrest among border peoples along whole of India’s Northern frontier from Ladakh to Assam and policing of that frontier which has hither – to required negligible military effort and expenditure would assume immediate practical importance. Moreover in Korea Government of India have opposed aggression even though the party attacked is a reactionary regime dominating one part of a country whose people wish for UNIFICATION. They could not (repeat not) in the circumstances condone aggression on Tibet from Chinese side of the De FACTO border.
Recent statements by Chinese spokesmen that their forces will enter Tibet only to free her from Anglo-American influences and that Tibetan way of life and autonomy will be left undisturbed are clearly insincere. There is now no (repeat no) Anglo-American activity in Tibet and Chinese have already attacked the established religious and political Order by CHAMPIONING the PANCHEN LAMA candidate. The example of Eastern Europe makes it quite clear that establishment of Communist autonomy meaningless.
In these circumstances it appears necessary that Chinese Government should immediately be informed of Government of India’s views on Tibet and of their concern at reports of military concentrations on Tibetan border. They could be told that India is keenly interested in maintenance of full Tibetan autonomy and integrity for reasons of her own security. Any military activity against Tibet would worsen the already present International situation besides causing alarm in India.
Friendly but positive representation on these lines might possibly avert aggression while maintenance of an attitude of indifference would certainly encourage it. Communist countries have evidently accepted India’s stand on Korea with understanding. If Chinese Government are genuinely anxious to cultivate India’s friendship they should be ready to appreciate India’s concern for her own security.
I did NOT hear All India Radio announcement of statement said to have been made by Indian High Commissioner in London. Grateful for details.
A day later, Nehru replied that the pressure tactics suggested by Dayal are unlikely “to succeed because, ultimately, we have no effective sanctions.”
One could ask, in which case “why to intervene in the Korean crisis”?
Just for the glory?
Here is Nehru’s reaction to Dayal’s telegram. Dayal and Sinha were rightly getting nervous!
PRIME MINISTER’S SECRETARIAT
To the Secretary General, MEA (G.S. Bajpai)
and Foreign Secretary (K.P.S. Menon)
Date: August 18, 1950
Our Representative at Gangtok in Sikkim is evidently getting very nervous about the situation in Tibet. His telegram displays this nervousness and advise us to go on bringing pressure on the Chinese Government to refrain from invading Tibet. Our Representative in Lhasa also feels that way. I do not think any such attempt at pressure tactics is likely to succeed because, ultimately, we have no effective sanctions. We are reminded that we promised diplomatic support to Tibet. We have been giving such diplomatic support in so far as it is feasible. We can do little more.
I am however sending you a draft telegram which I wish to send personally to our Ambassador in Peking.
From Foreign (Ministry of External Affairs), New Delhi.
To the Political Officer in Sikkim, Gangtok
Repeated to the Indian Mission in Lhasa.
Reference your telegram. Threatened invasion of Tibet by China.
On July 16th, we instructed our Ambassador at Peking to emphasise to Chinese Government the desirability of settling Sino-Tibetan affairs by friendly negotiations. On receiving the text of General Liu Po-Cheng’s [Liu Bosheng] proclamation to Tibetans from our Embassy at Peking [General Liu had announced that Tibet would soon be ‘liberated’], we instructed him in our telegram dated 5th August to make a representation to the Chinese Government that Sino-Tibetan relations should be settled by means of negotiations and that the projected military march should be stayed. The Ambassador made the representation on 13th August to the Vice Minister who promised to refer it to the Foreign Minister, Chou En Lai who was ill. The reply of the Chinese Government is still awaited. In a telegram sent by us on the 17th August we instructed our ambassador to repeat our earnest hope that the problem of Tibet will be peacefully settled by friendly negotiations.
We regret that by oversight this information was not conveyed to you earlier.
Press report of Krishna Menon’s statement will be sent to you by bag [V.K. Krishna Menon, the Indian High Commissioner in London had defended Communist China].
The Indian ambassador, K.M. Panikkar’s appeal was so weak that the Chinese took it as a green light to go ahead. It will be mentioned two months later in a telegram from Mao to the Southwestern Bureau in Chengdu, responsible for the military operations.
Panikkar believed that in any case Tibet has always belonged to China.
Such a tragedy for Tibet and for India.
Retrospectively, Dayal’s warnings were absolutely accurate.